Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Short Story: The Medal
I figure everybody’s got at least one war story in them even if they only ever read about them in history books. It’s just one of the most horrific realities of human existence, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a let-up in the organized killing any time soon. And yes, it’s easy for me to talk like that from my cozy, safe home as I type on my computer in a climate controlled room, while others don’t even have clean water to drink. And isn’t that one of the main causes?
by Paul Darcy
We nervously trained our automatic rifles in the direction of the ridge and the quiet rustling noises. Silently we waited, sweat dripping slowly down our painted faces. In between the thick vegetation, a flash of khaki camouflage. It was Spear returning. Our tension lessened slightly. As quickly as he could, while maintaining cover in the dense tropical forest, Spear crept up to us, knees bent, looking scared. We couldn't tell by seeing him like that whether he would have good news for us or bad. We, all of us, look scared, away from base camp on a mission. He was out of breath so we let him be. He would tell us soon enough.
We, consisted of myself, Jack Lord, known as Five-O, Billy Bubrooski, Spear, the Howdi-Doodi twins, Dave Hanson and Ralf Foyer and the ever quiet, four-eyed Miles Townsan, Doc. We were all that was left of sixth division. A specially trained recon troupe of twelve. This had been a one hell of a mission so far, and with less than half of us left to complete it, we weren't to hopeful
The mission. An enemy platoon had somehow infiltrated our lines, devastated an important supply depot, and returned to some close base the choppers couldn't find. We were out here to find them, report back the location, and let the Big Guns come in and take-em-out.
The Big Guns always talked about taking-em-out. They seemed to be far less effective than they boasted of. They had the firepower alright, we had seen it many times. Huge fireballs devastating acres of forest. But they counted on punch instead of accuracy. That's why our supply line was hit last week. We were assured by the Big Guns that the area had been secured. Secured my ass. They were so damn confident in their heavy artillery, blasting the faceless enemy from an impersonal distance. Get then on the ground with bullets whizzing by their heads like hornets, friends blown to hamburger beside you, watch friends and enemies's blood spray the leaves and then let them boast about taking-em-out.
I could tell Spear had mostly caught his breath, was about to speak, when we heard the faint dreaded noises coming up and below and somewhere to our right. Another patrol? Where the hell were they coming from? We had just come from below and they hadn't been anywhere around then.
Spear motioned up the way he had come and began to move. We scrambled up after him, making as little noise as we could. Just then my god-damned grenades started jingling, but I couldn't stop to try and quiet them. The patrol was gaining on us. I guess the sound of my grenades was enough to alert them to our presence though, because the next thing I knew machine gun fire was chattering from below. Limbs and leaves dropped from the trees around us. It was obvious they didn't know exactly where we were, just the general direction, but that was sometimes enough. A full patrol could unload three hundred rounds a second. It only took one to kill.
We were almost at the top of the rise when I heard Doc grunt in pain. He kept coming though, running on adrenalin. If we could gain the ridge. Then, as Spear and I reached the top, Spear swore at the top of his lungs. I caught a glimpse of why and with animal reflexes dove to my left heading for the ground as fast as I could. Spear had triggered a pair of Bouncing Betties. In my mind I saw them rise on either side of him as if in slow motion. Spear screamed again, there was a muffled blast and I hit the ground hard as though pushed there and began tumbling out of control down a steep slope. The entire time I was falling I kept seeing those damn Betties suspended in the air. The worst part was they weren't meant to kill, only incapacitate. Wounded soldiers are more of a burden than dead ones. We knew it, the Viet-Kong knew it. But they were the only ones using that knowledge here.
I could hear the Howdi-Doodi twins returning fire with their M-16s, then I hit the ground at the bottom of the slope and ground gave way. The hole I broke into was about fifteen feet deep and the breath was slapped out of me when I hit the bottom. Earth and plants tumbled in after me. The sound of gunfire and explosions was muffled now, and far off. I moved my limbs and head carefully. Nothing was broken and I still had all of my gear though I suspected that would do me little good. I was sure I had fallen into a Tiger trap. Another popular Viet-Kong device. Sometimes they had wooden spikes in them, sometimes not. In this case it seemed that there weren't any. But, as I looked about with my eyes adjusting to the gloom, I realised that I wasn't in a Tiger trap at all, but a tunnel. By the dull light, which filtered in from the hole above, I could see the passage lead off in either direction.
I looked up at the hole I made, then at the dirt walls. No way I could climb out. I got up and headed down the passage in the direction opposite the rise. It had to lead out somewhere. I had no lights and no great love of the dark. Bullets and knives came out of the dark. I also had no choice.
Then it struck me. This was part of the legendary Viet-Kong tunnel system. They were said to have tunnels running all through their territories. But if this was part of the system it was far too close to our supply lines. We were told the tunnels didn't reach anywhere as close as this though. Told by the Big Guns. I should have known. We had been looking for a base. I knew now there never was one. They had burrowed there way here. Almost unbelievable.
It wasn't too long after I had been making my way along in the dark when I began to see a faint light up ahead and heard voices. Viet-Kong voices. I could also here the crunching of wood occasionally. Sounded like crates being piled. I crept closer, until around a turn in the tunnel, I could see what was going on. About tenViet-Kong were stock piling munitions. I could see inside one open crate. Bouncing Betties and dynamite.
I went back around the corner to think. Now I'm not much of a hero, but I figured I would never get out of these tunnels alive. I made my decision quickly. I took out all five of my grenades, hooked them together, kissed one, muttered a personal curse with my teeth biting a pin, turned the corner and hurled the bunch down the tunnel toward the crates. I ran like hell back the way I had come. I remember counting to five. Then I felt like I had been hit by a freight train from behind.
When I woke up next I was surprised to find myself in a hospital in America, not hell. I was told I had successfully completed the mission by a general I had never seen before. He smiled a toothy smile. I didn't smile back. There were a lot of other military men there also. One of them pinned a medal on me, but I was too weak to pull it off.
My nineteenth birthday was tomorrow. The same day as Spears.